Liberty, Prudence, Imperfection, and Law

“Two Treatises on the Acquisition and Use of Power,” By Jude P. Dougherty

This essay was authored by Jude P. Dougherty, and it is republished here with permission from ISI.

Some cultural historian of the future, some future Gibbon, will record the decline and fall of a once-great nation, how it lost contact with its founding documents and with the spiritual traditions that animated its growth and how it succumbed to the siren song of a charismatic leader who led it to its dissolution in a visionary, multicultural, universal democracy.

As the United States in a troubled time faces a questionable future, we instinctively turn to the past to determine in the light of similar circumstances what the future may portend. To the untutored eye, studies of the past with reference to the future, although always an active literary genre, seem to be appearing with greater frequency. Rémi Brague has employed his significant command of medieval history to explore the relation that prevailed among Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the Middle Ages, with an eye on the current European effort to integrate an Islamic influx from the Middle East and North Africa.1 Adrian Goldsworthy has produced a new study of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, and though he disclaims any thought of relevance to the present, he cannot avoid reference to the United States and even cites his participation in a seminar of established historians organized by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment under American sponsorship. After chronicling the course of the Roman Empire from its peak at the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 to the abortive effort of the Eastern Empire to recapture its lost territories in the sixth century, Goldsworthy, in his conclusion, assures the reader that the United States is not of necessity destined to repeat the Roman decline.2 Paul A. Rahe has produced a study of Montesquieu on war, religion, and commerce that he clearly regards as relevant to contemporary political discourse.3

Apart from these serious studies, two treatises on the acquisition and use of power written in the middle of the twentieth century are worth revisiting, for they retain a frightful puissance. I have in mind those of Bertrand de Jouvenel and F. A. Hayek.


Though often neglected as a cultural historian, Bertrand de Jouvenel’s work, On Power: Its Nature and the History of Its Growth,4 remains timely although it was written more than sixty years ago. Penned during the dark days of the Nazi occupation of France, the book was published in 1945 at the first opportunity after the war’s end and appeared in English translation five years later. Up against the raw power of the German occupation, de Jouvenel, the philosopher and historian, was led to reflect on the nature of power in the abstract. He set out to examine the reasons why and the way in which Power grows in society. As he uses the word, “Power” is always capitalized; it may stand for authority, the ruler, or simply the drive for dominance.

On Power can be read at different levels: as history, as prophecy, as political theory. Pierre Manent, exploring the course of self-government in Europe, speaks of de Jouvenel’s “melancholy liberalism.”5 Given de Jouvenel’s sweeping command of history, he can make a case for every judgment or argument he advances in the book by citing numerous historical examples in support, yet his experience of Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s cannot be discounted as a coloring factor. The book is a call for repeated stock-taking, for an extended scrutiny of every new proposal that would extend the power of the state. Do not leap into the dark, he cautions his countrymen at war’s end; beware of letting “necessity,” the tyrant’s plea, have its way.

Politics is about Power, he tells us: “It is in the pursuit of Utopia that the aggrandizers of state power find their most effective ally. Only an immensely powerful apparatus can do all that the preachers of panacea government promise.”6 De Jouvenel believes that history shows that the acceptance of all-embracing state authority is largely due to the fatigue and despair brought about by war or economic disorder. The European may say that liberty is the most precious of all things, yet as the experience of France attests, it is not valued as such by people who lack bread and water. The will to be free in time of danger is easily extinguished. Liberty becomes a secondary need; the primary need is security.

One of the pitfalls of democracy is its lack of accountability. The popular will is easily manipulated. It recognizes no authority outside itself that possesses the strength to limit its excesses. The dethronement of the old faith to which the state was accountable left an aching void in the domain of beliefs and principles, allowing the state to impose its own. Without accountability, democracy, because of its centralizing, patternmaking, absolutist drive, can easily become an incubator of tyranny. The kings of old, the personification of power, were possessed of personality, of passions good and bad. More often than not, their sense of responsibility led them to will “the good” for their people. Power within a democracy, by contrast, resides in a faceless and impersonal bureaucracy that claims to have no existence of its own and becomes the anonymous, impersonal, passionless instrument of what is presumed to be the general will. Writing in France when the Roosevelt Administration was barely ten years old, de Jouvenel feared the long-range danger posed by the many regulatory commissions created by that administration. He saw that agencies simultaneously possessing legislative, executive, and judicial control could operate largely outside of public control and become tyrannical.

The extension of Power, which means its ability to control a nation’s economy ever more completely, is responsible for its ability to wage war. De Jouvenel asks, “Had Hitler succeeded Maria Theresa on the throne, does anyone suppose that it would have been possible to forge so many up-to-date weapons of tyranny?”7

It is, alas, no longer possible for us to believe that by smashing Hitler and his regime we are eradicating the root of statist evil: “Can anyone doubt that a state which binds man to itself by every tie of need will be better placed to conscript them all, and one day consign them to the dooms of war? The more departments of life that Power takes over, the greater will be its material resources for making war.”8 Even within a democracy the vast resources of the state are ripe for a dictator to seize. The bold, by discounting all risk, are positioned to seize all initiatives and become the rulers, while the timid run for cover and security: “The more complete the hold which the state gets on the resources of a nation, the higher, the more sudden, the more irresistible, will be the wave in which an armed community can break on a pacific one. . . . It follows that, in the very act of handing more of ourselves to the state, we may be fostering tomorrow’s war.”9

Aristotle in the Politics reduced the variety of governmental structures that he had studied to three: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, recognizing that whatever shape a government takes, the essence of governing is Power. Force may establish Power, but once established, habit alone can keep it in being. A standing center of Power that is obeyed by habit has, in the case of the state, the means of physical compulsion and is kept in being partly by its perceived strength, partly by the faith that it rules by right, and partly by the hope of its beneficence. The natural tendency of Power is to grow. Power is authority, and authority enables its own expansion.10

Power, when dedicated to egalitarian pursuits, must always be at war with capitalist authorities and despoil the capitalists of their accumulated wealth.11 Its political objective consists in the demolition of a class that enjoys “independent means,” by seizing the assets of that class to bestow benefits on others. The result is a transfer of power from productive individuals to an unproductive bureaucracy that becomes the new ruling class, displacing that which was economically productive. The top state authorities, in alliance with the bottom (that is, the oppressed), squeeze out the middle (the Establishment) and in so doing progressively penetrate ever deeper into the personal lives of citizens. The point of course has been made by others, notably by F. A. Hayek, who called attention to the fact that an assault on property rights is not always apparent because it is carried out in the name of the common good, an appealing but elastic concept defined by those whose interest it serves.

Given that all political activity is concerned with the acquisition of Power, both to seize and to maintain the organs of Power, one must first gain control of public education at its early stages. A state monopoly in education has the ability to condition minds in childhood for its later years, thereby preparing popular opinion for the seizure by the state of even greater Power.12 De Jouvenel reminds his reader that in times past Western Europe has acknowledged that there is a will superior to the collective will of man and that there is an immutable law to which even civil authority must bow. Absent that acknowledgment, Power has free reign. “Even the police regime, the most insupportable attribute of tyranny, has grown in the shadow of democracy.”13 France, disliking the minority rule of one person, deposed the crown and subsequently organized itself in the light of mass interests only to discover that when the majority holds Power over a minority, justice within a democracy can be as elusive as it is in a despotic regime.

De Jouvenel’s translator couldn’t resist a postscript, “One of the first casualties in times of discord is, as Thucydides noted, the meaning of words, and to the Thucydidean list of inexactitudes, it is time to add the current equation of liberty with security, the possession of a vote with liberty, and justice with equality . . . of democratic with whatever the user of the word happens to approve. Humpty Dumpty has succeeded to the chair of more precise thinkers.”14

Yves R. Simon, born in Cherbourg in 1903, the same year de Jouvenel was born in the Champagne region, was in his early thirties when he witnessed Hitler’s rise to power. At the outbreak of the war, Simon was a visiting professor in the United States. Remaining in America, he eventually became a member of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. From this vantage-point, Simon, like de Jouvenel, surveyed the ruins of Europe and in his own way addressed the conditions that brought it about.15Influenced by Pierre Joseph Proudhon, no friend of democracy, Simon was fearful that democracy, far from excluding a totalitarian regime, would in time actually give way to one. Absent appropriate checks and balances, the legal processes of the democratic state may work in such a way as to allow the elimination of democracy. Of equal importance to whatever checks and balances may be prescribed by law or inscribed in a constitution, are those that are in a sense external to the political structure, namely, private property and independent management of resources. “When people acquiesce to the removal of all checks on the conquering expansion of the state, the totalitarian regime is firmly established.” Simon was convinced that an impersonal authority could not win such an irrational surrender, but that a leader with charismatic talents could win approval.16 We know from experience, he says, that where totalitarianism prevails, democracy has no chance, yet few men dare to voice the paradoxical consideration that democracy may become totalitarian. Totalitarian democracy, of course, would not be true democracy.17 Proudhon maintains that the state, whether democratic or not, remains the state and by its very nature threatens all liberties and the very life of society.

De Jouvenel has yet another concern. In a democratic regime, we are told, the general interest is represented by Power. From this postulate flows the corollary that no interest is legitimate that opposes the general interest. For this reason even local or particular interest must yield to the general interest, in de Jouvenel’s words, “bend its knee to Power.” Power, which is conceived as the incarnation of the general will, cannot tolerate any group that embodies particular wishes and interests.18

The distinguished American historian, Richard Pipes, a former director of Harvard’s Russian Research Center and a specialist in Russian history, reinforces de Jouvenel’s judgment that democratic procedures in electing government officials do not guarantee respect for individual rights. The right to property, he maintains, may be more important than the right to vote.19 Property of itself does not guarantee civil rights and liberties, but, historically speaking, it has been the most effective device for ensuring both. Property has the effect of creating an autonomous sphere on which, by mutual consent, neither the state nor society can encroach. In drawing a line between the public and the private sphere, it makes its owner, as it were, co-sovereign with the state.

Even so, once “the elimination of poverty” becomes a state objective, the state is bound to treat property not as a fundamental right that it has an obligation to protect but as an obstacle to “social justice.” 20 Even in the most advanced democracies, the main threat to liberty may come not from tyranny but from the pursuit of socialist objectives. Liberty by its very nature, Pipes reminds us, is inegalitarian. Men differ in strength, intelligence, ambition, courage, perseverance, and all else that makes for success. There is no method to make men both free and equal. In the pursuit of equality, property rights may be subtly undermined through taxation and government interference with business contracts as the state pursues its egalitarian objectives. Insofar as poor voters always and everywhere outnumber rich ones, in theory there are no limits to the democratic state’s drive to promote equality and to run roughshod over the rights of private property. “The rights to ownership,” Pipes argues, “need to be restored to their proper place instead of being sacrificed to the unattainable ideal of social equality and all embracing economic security. . . . The balance between ‘civil’ and ‘property’ rights has to be readdressed if we care about freedom.”21 He continues, “The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave the government no license to set quotas for hiring personnel by private enterprise or admitting students to institutions of higher learning, and yet the federal bureaucracy acts as if it had.”22

Some fear, Pipes acknowledges, that the drive for social justice will inevitably lead to the destruction of democracy, yet he is not drawn to that pessimistic conclusion. He reasons that encroachments on property cannot advance relentlessly to their logical conclusion, the abolition of private property, because the most affluent are twice as likely to vote as the poorest. If he were addressing the subject today, some ten years later, I am not sure he would be so sanguine. The prospect of government control of all aspects of the electoral process looms as the present administration is now positioned to mobilize the vote through federally funded organizations and through redistricting by taking direct control of the census. Not to be discounted is the distorting effect of monolithic media able to advance their own political agenda in concert with officials who share their objectives. De Jouvenel addressed this issue when speaking of the ability of popular newspapers to awaken emotion, building or destroying concepts of right conduct. “From the day the first ha’penny paper was launched until now, the big-circulation newspapers have never built up an ethic.”23

In the concluding paragraphs of his study, de Jouvenel writes, “It is impossible to condemn totalitarian regimes without also condemning the destructive metaphysics which made their happening a certainty.”24 He asks, “What would the individualists and free thinkers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries say could they but see what idols a man must now worship, to what jackboot he must now pay homage; would not the superstition they fought seem to be the very acme of enlightenment, compared to the superstitions which have taken its place?”25 It is with reason that Pierre Manent called him a “melancholy liberal.”


It was approximately sixty-five years ago that the Austrian economist, F. A. Hayek (1899–1992), published a short work entitled The Road to Serfdom, a book perhaps more relevant today than when it was written. 26 The book is the result of Hayek’s reflection on the socialist drift in Europe that facilitated the rise to power of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. When the Anschluss annexing Austria to Germany took place in March 1938, Hayek was a lecturer at the London School of Economics. Granted British citizenship, he remained throughout the war in England, where he continued to teach until 1950, when he accepted an appointment to the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago

Written while the outcome of World War II was still uncertain, The Road to Serfdom may be fruitfully read as an historical review of the social and economic policies that prevailed during the first decades of the twentieth century, but that was not Hayek’s primary purpose in writing the book. It was issued as a prophetic warning, yet as Hayek modestly writes, one does not need to be a prophet to be aware of impending disaster. “When one hears for the second time opinions expressed and measures advocated which one has met twenty years ago, they assume a new meaning as symptoms of a definite trend: they suggest the probability that future developments will take a similar turn.” He continues, “It is necessary now to state the unpalatable truth that it is Germany whose fate we are now in danger of repeating. The danger is not immediate, it is true, and conditions in England and the United States are still so remote from those we have witnessed in Germany as to make it difficult to believe we are moving in the same direction.” 27 Still, he complains, the socialist policies endorsed by our “progressive” intellectuals are the same as those of the Twenties and Thirties that created National Socialism.

Hayek was not alone in his analysis of the past or in recognizing the danger that the emerging socialist parties posed for the future of Europe. As we have seen, writing in France during the same period, de Jouvenel produced a similar diagnosis of the events that brought the European dictators to power. De Jouvenel’s study of power and its acquisition serves as a lasting reminder that politics is about power. “It is in the pursuit of Utopia,” de Jouvenel writes, “that the aggrandizers of state power find their most effective ally, [for] only an immensely powerful apparatus can do all that the preachers of panacea government promise.” Hayek, however, was engaged, much more so than de Jouvenel, in a debate on economic planning including Ludwig von Mises (a pupil of Eugen Böhm-Bawerk), Joseph Schumpeter, Michael Polanyi, Otto Neurath, Walter Schiff, and Karl Popper.

It is significant that this debate focused not so much on social policy per se as it did on the method to be employed in systematically arriving at sustainable social policy. The remarkable advances in the natural sciences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly in theoretical physics, stimulated interest in methodological and epistemological issues normally discussed in the philosophy of science. The positivism of the Vienna Circle did not remain a merely philosophical outlook but began to have an impact in the social sciences.28 The methods that had proven successful in natural science were deemed applicable to the sciences of man. Economics was no exception. Positivism, eschewing the metaphysical concepts of nature and purpose in nature, limited knowledge to sense-experience, to that which can be empirically verified, thereby reducing science to description and prediction. Lost was a sense of an unchangeable human nature, ordered to a discernible end, that is, to self-fulfillment.

Given its ideological link to socialism, positivism tended to divide political theorists into left and right wings. Perhaps no one has more succinctly shown the link than the American political theorist, John H. Hallowell, in his Main Currents in Modern Political Thought.29 This should be read in conjunction with Ludwig von Mises’s classic but lumbering 1922 volume, Socialism30 Hallowell shows that once justice, being a metaphysical concept, is discarded as empirically worthless, freedom under the law no longer means what the classical liberal took it to mean. Traditionally it meant that a man could not be compelled to do anything contrary to reason and conscience. Under the influence of positivism, “freedom” came to mean that a man could not be compelled to do anything except by law enacted in accordance with some prescribed procedure with sufficient force behind it to compel obedience. From the positivist’s viewpoint what the liberal calls “rights” are merely concessions granted by the state or society. Hallowell concludes that if rights are the product of law, they are not properly rights at all; they are mere concessions to claims that the individual makes and the state recognizes. As such they can be withdrawn if the state deems such withdrawal in the interest of the general welfare. Hallowell insists:

There is a great difference between freedom from unjust compulsion and freedom from illegal compulsion. Moreover, when the test of legality is ultimately conceived as the force behind law, freedom from illegal compulsion amounts to no more than freedom to do whatever the state does not forbid. This is a conception of freedom much more congenial to tyranny than to the preservation of the inalienable rights of man.”31

Viewed from the perspective of positivism, the rights of man are no longer to be called “natural rights”; they are mere “legal rights.” Hallowell reflects:

It was the liberal positivistic jurist long before Hitler who taught (explicitly or implicitly) that might makes right and that rights are not attributes which individuals have by virtue of their humanity but simply claims which the state may or may not choose to recognize. Unwittingly, it may be, such liberals prepared the way for Lidice and Dachau.32

Distancing himself from socialist planning, Hayek provided his own perspective on how a market economy is actually driven. Most of the knowledge necessary for running an economic system, he holds, is not in the form of scientific knowledge, that is, by a conscious allusion to the principles governing natural and social phenomena. More important is the knowledge which may be described as intuitive in character, idiosyncratic knowledge, consisting of dispersed bits of information and understanding relative to time and place. This tacit knowledge is often not consciously possessed by those who make use of it, and it is of such a nature that it can never be communicated to a central authority. The market tends to use this tacit knowledge, as do individuals pursuing their own ends. Ludwig von Mises had made a similar point in a 1920 article, “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth,” wherein he wrote:

In the absence of a capitalist market, production costs and commodity values could not be determined. A central planning board could neither measure costs nor determine prices. Prices reflect not inherent but changing human preferences; they provide producers and distributors necessary information for planning production and distribution. . . . It is precisely in market dealings that market prices are formed, taken as the basis of calculation for all kinds of goods and labor. Where there is no free market, there is no pricing mechanism: without a pricing mechanism there is no economic calculation.33

Karl Popper, like Hayek, was a student of von Mises and from the start was critical of the Vienna Circle, although in his early years he could be described as a heterodox socialist. Hayek badly shook Popper’s progressivism, Hacohen tell us in his biography of Popper. On reading The Road to Serfdom, Popper in a letter to Hayek, called it “one of the most important political books I have ever seen.” To another correspondent he wrote, “[Hayek] has seen very much sharper than I have that socialism itself leads directly to totalitarianism.”34 Popper in his autobiography discloses that he would have remained a socialist had he not begun to see that socialism put liberty at risk. In Hacohen’s judgment, it was the Continent’s mass support for fascism that gave him pause. Popper came to the conclusion that “the paradox of democracy was real: if the majority were sovereign, then it could decide that it no longer desired a democratic government. It could, as a third of the German electorate did, vote the fascists into power.”35 It is worth remembering that both Hayek and Popper, though universally recognized as social theorists, were initially interested in epistemological issues normally encountered in the philosophy of science. In fact, when Hayek arrived at the University of Chicago, he offered a faculty seminar on the philosophy of science that was attended by some of the most notable scientists of the time, including Enrico Fermi, Sewall Wright, and Leo Szilard.

In The Fatal Conceit, Hayek devotes a timely chapter to “The Mysterious World of Trade and Money,” wherein he speaks of the shameless abuse of money by governments and the disturbance in markets caused by government interference. “The history of government management of money has, except for a few short happy periods, been one of incessant fraud and deception.”36 With von Mises he was a strong advocate of the gold standard. He was convinced that society does not benefit from an artificial increase in the money supply or the easy availability of bank credit. Credit expansion by banks, in addition to causing inflation, makes depression inevitable by causing mal-investment, that is, by inducing businessmen to overinvest in higher inventories of capital goods. Inflationary bank credit, when lent to businesses, masquerades as pseudo-savings and makes businessmen believe that there are more resources available for investment in capital goods production than consumers genuinely command. Hence an inflationary boom requires a recession, which becomes a painful but necessary process by which the market liquidates unsound investments and reestablishes the investment and productive structure that best satisfies consumer preferences and demands. In the early 1920s von Mises and Hayek developed this cyclical theory, warning that the “New Era” prosperity of the period was a sham and that its inevitable result would be a bank panic and depression.37 Contemporary readers may find it unfortunate that the von Mises-Hayek thesis has made no lasting impression on American presidential administrations past or present.

Socialism, considered abstractly, Hayek concedes, may not inexorably lead to totalitarian rule, but he is convinced that experience shows that the unforeseen and inevitable consequences of social planning create a state of affairs in which, if its policies are pursued, totalitarian forces eventually will get the upper hand. Ironically, he suggests, socialism can be put into practice only by methods of which socialists disapprove.38 The Road to Serfdom was written, Hayek repeats, in an effort to alert his readers to the seemingly unstoppable trend in Western democracies to subject their national economies to central planning, which he claims evidence shows will inevitably lead to tyranny. Even a strong tradition of political liberty, Hayek warns, is no safeguard. The democratic statesman, who from the loftiest of motives sets out to plan economic life, will soon be confronted with the alternative of assuming dictatorial power or abandoning his plans.39 In short order he will have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure.

Hayek is convinced that the unscrupulous and uninhibited, lacking principles to constrain their activity, are most likely to assume positions of authority. Under their leadership, the moral views that initially inspired the collectivist state are not likely to prevail. The general demand for quick and determined government action will lead to a new morality and the suppression of democratic procedures. Given dissatisfaction with the slow and cumbersome course of constitutional procedures, the man or the party that appears the strongest and seems the most resolute in getting things done is the one that will set the moral tone.40

In a planned society it is not merely a question of what the majority of people agree upon but what the largest single or homogeneous group agrees upon. It takes such a core group to make unified direction possible. Such a group, Hayek believes, is not likely to be composed of the best-informed and most-disinterested elements of society. In general the higher the education and intelligence of individuals, the more their tastes will differ and the less likely they are to agree on a set of ideas. “If we wish to find a high degree of uniformity and similarity of outlook, we have to descend to the regions of moral and intellectual standards where the more primitive and ‘common’ instincts and truths prevail.”

That said, if a political dictator had to rely entirely on those whose uncomplicated and primitive instincts happen to be similar, their numbers would scarcely give sufficient weight to his campaign. He will have to increase their numbers by converting more to the same creed. He must somehow obtain support of the docile and gullible who have no strong convictions of their own but are prepared to accept a ready-made system of values, provided it is drummed into their ears loudly and frequently. It will be those whose vague and imperfectly formed ideas are easily swayed and whose passions and emotions are readily aroused who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party. 41Absent a strong bourgeoisie, the transition to a dictatorship may be easy, swift, and accomplished with complete legality.

Speaking of the mechanism by which power is achieved; Hayek warns that where there is dissatisfaction with the policies of the ruling party, a skillful demagogue can weld together a closely coherent and homogeneous body of supporters by calling for a new order. “It seems almost a law of human nature that it is easier to get people to agree on a negative program—on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those who are better off—than on any positive task.”42 Yet pandering to the demands of a minority can lead to the dissolution of democratic governance, for democratic governance can work successfully only so long as, by a widely accepted creed, the functions of the state are limited to policies where real agreement among the majority can be achieved. The price we have to pay for a democratic system, Hayek insists, is the restriction of state action to those areas where agreement can be reached. Government interference in the life of the citizenry, even for benevolent purposes, endangers liberty if it posits a consensus where none exists. Absent consensus, coercion becomes necessary.43

Examining the wellsprings of the socialist mentality, Hayek believes that the desire to organize social life according to a unitary plan springs essentially from a desire for power, much more so than a desire for the communal good. In order to achieve their end, socialists must create power—power over men wielded by other men, a perennial allure regardless of the objective. The success of socialist planning will depend on the achievement of power over a reluctant citizenry. When economic power is employed as an instrument of political power, it creates a degree of dependence scarcely distinguishable from slavery. The separation of economic and political aims, Hayek insists, is an essential condition of freedom.44

Throughout his long life, Hayek was to return time and again to themes first articulated in The Road to Serfdom, notably in Law, Legislation and Liberty45 and The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism (cited earlier). In the latter, published when Hayek was eighty-nine years old, he professed to be an agnostic with respect to the existence and nature of God, but he had no doubt about the classical and Christian origins of Western culture, and he saw that with the eclipse of Christianity, Europe was losing a force for the good. In this work the connection between property and liberty is reexamined in the light of history. “The Greco-Roman world,” Hayek writes, “was essentially and precisely one of private ownership, whether of a few acres or of the enormous domains of Roman senators and emperors, a world of private trade and manufacture.”46 The Greeks seem to have been the first to see the connection between private property and individual freedom. From antiquity to the present, “no advanced civilization has yet developed without a government which saw its chief aim in the protection of private property.”47

“Where there is no property, there is no justice” is a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid, Hayek maintains. Why then do intelligent people tend to be socialist?

Of course intelligent people will tend to overvalue intelligence, and to suppose that we must owe all the advantages and opportunities that our civilization offers to deliberate design rather than to following traditional rules, and likewise to suppose that we can, by exercising our reason eliminate any remaining undesired features by still more intelligent reflection, and still more appropriate design and “rational coordination” of our undertakings. This leads one to be favorably disposed to central economic planning and control that lie at the heart of socialism.48

Ignored by the “progressive” intellectual is the fact that there are other and more important elements at the root of our civilization. To these there seems to be a willful blindness. “How could,” Hayek rhetorically asks, “traditions which people do not like and understand, whose effects they usually do not appreciate and can neither see nor foresee, and which they are still ardently combating, continue to have been passed on from generation to generation?” We owe it to our religious heritage, Hayek concludes, that such beneficial traditions have been preserved and transmitted. From a purely naturalistic perspective, those traditions may be no more than “symbolic truths,” but it has been and remains the role of religion in society to preserve our moral compass.

One must conclude that even at the end of his life, in spite of certain Aristotelian propensities, Hayek had not fully escaped the positivism of Auguste Comte and the Vienna Circle to which he had been exposed in his early years. Lacking a metaphysics, he remained confined to the phenomenal order of description and prediction. Still, like his mentor, Ludwig von Mises, it is to Hayek’s lasting credit that he has alerted more than one generation to the main issue in social and political conflict, which is “whether a man should give away freedom, private initiative, and individual responsibility and surrender to the guardianship of a gigantic apparatus of compulsion and coercion, the socialist state.”49

JUDE P. DOUGHERTY is Professor Emeritus and Dean Emeritus of the School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America. He is editor of the Review of Metaphysics. This essay was originally published in the Spring 2010 issue of Modern Age, and it is reprinted here with permission from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. 


  1. Rémi Brague, The Legend of the Middle Ages: Philosophical Explorations of Medieval Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).
  2. Adrian Goldsworthy, How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009).
  3. Paul A. Rahe, Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009).
  4. Bertrand de Jouvenel, On Power: Its Nature and the History of Its Growth, trans. J. F. Huntington (New York: The Viking Press, 1948).
  5. Pierre Manent, Democracy without Nations?: The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, trans. Paul Seaton (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007).
  6. Paraphrased by Brogan, “Preface” to On Power, xvi-xvii.
  7. Ibid., 11–12.
  8. Ibid., 12.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid., 157.
  11. Ibid., 171.
  12. Ibid., 11.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid., 380.
  15. Yves R. Simon, The Community of the Free, trans. Willard R. Trask (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984).
  16. Ibid., 149.
  17. Ibid., 150: “The real question is whether democracy can lead to totalitarianism, whether a democratic regime can develop into a totalitarian regime, whether the democratic state may happen to work in such a way as to bring about the elimination of democracy and the establishment of totalitarianism.”
  18. On Power, 261.
  19. Richard Pipes, Property and Freedom (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), 281.
  20. Ibid., 229.
  21. Ibid., 287.
  22. Ibid., 288.
  23. On Power, 373.
  24. Ibid., 377.
  25. Ibid.
  26. F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944). Because of a paper shortage in England, Hayek, with the aid of a friend, sought publication in North America. In the United States, the manuscript was turned down by three major publishers before it was accepted by the University of Chicago Press. Given a glowing review in the London Sunday Times Book Review, the initial printing of 2,000 copies was soon increased to 20,000. By the time the fiftieth-anniversary edition was issued, the book had sold 81,000 copies in hardback and 175,000 in paperback. Reader’s Digest had distributed an additional 600,000 copies in condensed form.
  27. Ibid., 4.
  28. For a valuable discussion of the impact of the Vienna Circle on the economic and political theorists of the day, see Malachi H. Hacohen, Karl Popper: The Formative Years, 1902–1945: Politics and Philosophy in Interwar Vienna (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
  29. Cf. John H. Hallowell, “Positivism” in Main Currents in Modern Political Thought(New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1950), 289–327.
  30. Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. from the 1932 German edition by J. Kahane (New York: Macmillan Co., 1945). Von Mises was writing before the full effects of socialism were felt on the Continent.
  31. Main Currents, 225–26.
  32. Ibid., 226.
  33. Collectivist Economic Planning, ed. Friedrich Hayek (London: Routledge, 1935), 111.
  34. Karl Popper, 485.
  35. Ibid., 507.
  36. The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism in The Collected Works of F.A. Hayek, ed. W.W. Bartley III (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 103.
  37. Cf. Murray N. Rothbard, “Biography of Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973),” at
  38. Road to Serfdom, xliii.
  39. Ibid., 149.
  40. Ibid., 150.
  41. Ibid., 152–53.
  42. Ibid., 153.
  43. Ibid., 291.
  44. Ibid., 161.
  45. Law, Legislation and Liberty, 3 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973, 1976, 1979).
  46. The Fatal Conceit, 29.
  47. Ibid., 32.
  48. Ibid., 54.
  49. Cf. Ludwig von Mises, “Preface” in Bureaucracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1944).

2 Responses to ““Two Treatises on the Acquisition and Use of Power,” By Jude P. Dougherty”

  1. gabe

    Fantastic essay!
    I left a link for this essay at Postmodern Conservative.

    Goodness, how can one ever forget hayek?

    DeJouvenel was both new to me and a delight to read.

    Thanks for the great essay.



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